Feature Article - July 2011
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Design For All Times

Trends in Sports Facility Design

By Dawn Klingensmith

Triggering ADA Requirements

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 pertains to the design, construction and alteration of buildings and facilities. When an older facility is renovated, the project must include alterations and updates to make it accessible and ADA-compliant. It is a noble goal that sometimes has unfortunate consequences, such as putting off needed upgrades and repairs, Warner said.

For example, "School districts with tight budgets may need to make upgrades to address problems, but instead they do nothing because there's a grandfather clause for old gyms," Warner explained. "If the school starts renovating, though, it usually triggers the requirements for ADA to become part of that project."

ADA requirements state that if "existing elements, spaces, or common areas are altered, then each such altered element, space, feature, or area shall comply" with the same provisions as new construction projects. And, "If alterations of single elements, when considered together, amount to an alteration of a room or space in a building or facility, the entire space shall be made accessible."

Hence, a fairly straightforward renovation can start to look like a Pandora's box of added costs and responsibilities. "It holds people back from doing anything. Suddenly, fixing a leaky roof becomes this huge expense with other projects" rolled in, like reconfiguring restrooms and building ramps, Warner said.

If alterations are limited to the electrical, mechanical or plumbing system, or to hazardous material abatement or automatic sprinkler retrofitting, it typically is not necessary that the space be made ADA-compliant.

Not 'Just a Gym'

Although the economy continues to force budget cuts, people's expectations of what a sports facility should offer has grown, even for what would rightfully be called a gymnasium versus an arena or a "wellness center." Particularly on college campuses, "There's more of an effort to be architecturally interesting or unique," Warner said. "Gyms in the past have usually been pretty blah-looking. Now, they tend to look more integrated with the rest of campus."

Instead of cement-looking cubes, gyms and other sports facilities might feature "a grand entrance with a trophy room," he said.

Warner has seen an "ultra-modern" high school gym with a corrugated steel fascia: "Heading up to it, you feel like you're going into a facility that could be an art museum."

In general, "The public has higher expectations for openness and quality of light," McKenna said.

The Wellness Center at the College of New Rochelle was designed to meet all NCAA requirements, but also to provide "a spiritual and intellectual experience," according to architects at the Princeton, N.J.-based firm ikon.5.

Among the athletic facilities are a fitness center, a gymnasium with arena-style bleachers for 1,500 spectators, competition-size basketball and volleyball courts, an interior running track suspended above the gym floor, and a six-lane competition-size swimming pool with seating for 200. The center also houses classrooms and space for conferences and seminars.

Other highlights include the meditation room and a rooftop "contemplation garden."